Record strain on emergency departments

  • Date: 15 October 2021

EMERGENCY departments in England experienced the highest number of 12-hour and four-hour stays on record in September.

NHS performance figures also show that four-hour performance deteriorated for the sixth consecutive month, reaching a record low with just 64 per cent of patients in Type 1 Emergency Departments admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

Over 5,000 patients stayed in emergency departments for 12-hours or more from decision to admit to admission, which is an 80 per cent increase on August. This is the highest number of 12-hour stays since records began and is almost a third higher than the previous highest, recorded in January 2021.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: "This data is bleak and is a stark warning of the crisis that we are heading towards this winter.

"Dangerous crowding has returned to Emergency Departments, exit block is preventing a flow of patients through the hospital, and there have been widespread reports of ambulances queuing outside hospitals facing long handover delays. For patients, this means long and potentially frustrating waiting times in the Emergency Department. For staff it is incredibly challenging, as they do all they can to continue to deliver care quickly amid rising attendances and pressures.

"The Government need to recognise the potential crisis and support the health and care service as it tackles the challenges ahead."

Deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, Sarah Scobie, commented on the new figures: "Unfortunately, the pressures in accident and emergency care are a bellwether for the spikes in pressure also seen across the whole NHS and care system. Demand for GP appointments is also very high. Today’s GP funding announcement has some focus on boosting urgent same-day care, but it is difficult to see this reducing pressure on A&E staff without growing and retaining the number of GPs that we need.

"The upcoming government spending review will also be an important moment. How well the NHS will be able to cope with the ongoing Covid challenge and a record waiting list of 5.7m people will depend on the investment available in buildings, technology and equipment and to stabilise and reform the difficult situation in social care."

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